8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 19, "The Little League of Doom!" (1/3)

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Mon Jul 5 23:32:28 PDT 2010

Thank you very kindly for the kind words, Andrew.

On Jul 5, 6:10 am, Andrew Perron <pwer... at gmail.com> wrote:

> It's interesting how it mixed optimism with pessimism.

It's a tricky alchemy, to be sure, in this installment in particular
but also in JOLT CITY in general, which has always been, well, fairly
downbeat.  Even amid some of the crazy-awesome (well, stuff I intended
to be crazy-awesome, how well I succeeded, of course, is up to the
reader) stuff like the unicycle jousting match way back in number
four, it's always been a mite bit darker and sadder than, say, the
Human Zeppelin.

>  Personally, I've
> never been a fan of Lord of the Flies, nor of any of the various works
> inspired by it (seriously, why does everyone love Battle Royale so much?);
> they always seem like they're making this Big Important Statement About The
> True Nature of Humanity that could be short-circuited by having one decent
> person with a spine around.

Yeah, BATTLE ROYALE I don't understand, at all.  My nephew recommended
it to me as being like a slasher film where you intensely care about
the characters, but I found it to be pretty run-of-the-mill stuff as
far as characterization goes, pretty half-baked and not really very
much fun at all.

I wouldn't blame LORD OF THE FLIES for the ROYALEs of the world,
though, just like I wouldn't blame WATCHMEN for the grim-n-gritty
craptaculars that followed in its wake.  Because I think if LORD OF
THE FLIES is making a Big Important Statement About The True Nature of
Humanity, that statement isn't that human beings are, at base, evil,
but that we have within us all the capacity for it; and, further, that
said capacity is mitigated by Civilization-- by laws and systems that
give us order.  Sometimes, these systems don't work-- look how they
fail poor Fish in my story-- but they're far better than no system at
all, than total anarchy.

And, sure, one could argue that Golding-- he was certainly the
pessimistic sort, and apparently capable of great evil in his own
right!-- is arguing that because we need civilization to keep our
baser urges in check, that we are then base creatures at, um, base.
But my point of view-- perhaps an idiosyncratic one-- is that since
human beings created civilization to tame us, since we saw a need for
order and then imposed it, we can't be that bad.  Bringing this back
to FLIES, then, I don't think that Golding is making a Statement about
how we're all evil savages at heart, but making an entreaty, an
argument, in favour of civilization, and thus in favour of our own
astonishing ability to do and be better.

Whereas BATTLE ROYALE says nothing of consequence, yet manages to say
it very, very loudly.

> they always seem like they're making this Big Important Statement About The
> True Nature of Humanity that could be short-circuited by having one decent
> person with a spine around. But in this case, it was clear that the
> problem *was* that this group didn't have one decent person with a spine
> around; the Green Knight himself exists as counterexample

Yes, Fish and Martin were intended to be foils, with both facing more-
or-less the same choice: they can stand by and let it happen, or they
can make a completely futile attempt to stop it that will likely
result in their demise, in which case it keeps happening anyway.
Martin takes the stand-- losing his left hand in the process-- and
Fish doesn't.

Now, of course the question I was trying to raise, and that Pam
explicitly gives voice to, is, "Is it worth dying for something
abstract, for a principle?"  Because if taking a stand accomplishes
nothing, is it really taking a stand?  And, conversely, does that
excuse you from responsibility for not taking a stand?

It's not a question, mind, that I was trying to answer-- simply
something I wanted the reader to consider, perhaps meditate on.  Was
what Martin did wise?  Was it inspiring?  Was Fish wrong to give in to
the other boys?  What would *I* have done in that situation?  What
_have_ I done in similar situations? (-- likely not involving the
threat of death, I hope.)

Of course, with Fish being twelve years old, I'm not sure if one can
necessarily blame him for not "manning up"-- but, then, that was
another question I was trying to circle around: at what point in our
lives do we become responsible for our actions?  Does age, or perhaps
even a developmental disability, excuse us from evil, or our silent
complicity therein?

Touching on Martin's choice, I do want to state clearly that the loss
of the left hand isn't meant as any kind of meta-commentary on a
certain comic book character's memorable maiming.  I will say,
however, that I think if you're going to maim/kill a superhero in the
line of duty, it should be given the proper gravitas, should be a risk
that the hero knowingly accepts, should be an act of sacrifice,
instead of merely an act of shocking violence.

There was a time in the months I spent writing this installment that
Martin didn't survive it, a time when his suicide mission really was
just that.  It wasn't in my original outline, but rather arose during
the process of writing.  I decided against it, of course, not least of
all because I thought it would feel like one of those cheap, shocking
deaths I railed against in the above paragraph-- even if it WAS Martin
choosing to go into his probable doom.  The loss of the hand, however,
ensured that he didn't escape unscathed-- because that wouldn't have
been believable, and would have rendered all the preceding violence
and intended meditations on his vulnerability meaningless prattle, a
trick, a false attempt at dramatic heightening.

I want JOLT CITY to feel real-- as real as it can in a world with
speedsters and living balloon animals, at any rate.  If I'm going to
have thuggish twelve-year-olds running around with Superman powers,
then I can't pretend they wouldn't do terrible things, and if I'm
going to have a man with absolutely no powers attack evil Supermen,
especially after I've set up both the impossibility of him doing them
any harm and the depths of their depravity, there's no way he's going
to succeed.  That gave me pause; the optimist in me says there's
always a way.  But this particular story was about what happens when
there isn't a way-- it was, I guess, about both power and
powerlessness.  Once I had committed to this story and this direction,
I had to go all out, had to commit to it all the way, couldn't
magically wish my way out of it.

(Of course, one could definitely say that Derek and Dr. Fay's solution
to the problem _does_ wish my way out of the bed I made, but I think
there's a crucial difference, in that this resolution doesn't take
place until after Martin has made his decision and suffered the
consequences.  One Spider-Man story I always come back to, that I
always found disappointing, was a Howard Mackie/Romita Jr. story
during the post-Clone, pre-renumbering era in which Peter Parker,
Norman Osborn, and a couple of unconscious people find themselves
trapped in an elevator that was caught in an explosion.  One of the
unconscious people needs some kind of medical attention, and there are
security cameras still working on the elevator.  Peter is faced with a
choice: use his spider-strength to pull open the elevator doors,
saving the life but revealing his secret identity, or to let the
person die and wait for the rescue workers to save him and Osborn.
He, of course, opens the elevator with his spider-strength, but it
turns out the cameras weren't on after all.  And so, this decision
with major consequences in fact had no consequences; it was a fake-
out; it wished the situation away.  Whereas in this JOLT CITY story,
Martin's choice has serious consequences.  It's a real choice, not a
fake-out, and after that choice has been made, it can't be unmade.
And so the somewhat magical dissolution of the situation is fair game,
I think, because it doesn't exist to nullify the essential crux-of-the-
story moment, to hedge bets and make it all better like, um, a lot of
Russell Davies DR. WHO episodes. [runs away])

And to be clear, I'm not equality reality with tragedy or with
cynicism.  As I think I've recounted before, I have a friend who, when
asked if he was optimistic or pessimistic, replied that he was a
realist, which I thought was a bullshit answer: we all have an
obligation to be realists, to live in the fact-based world and not
delude ourselves.  But we can look at and live in that world hoping
(and working!) for the best, or despairing with that curious mix of
supreme apathy and caustic snark that so many philosophy majors
confuse for maturity.

As you said, Andrew, the story mixes optimism with pessimism-- I tried
to offer a look at this alternate reality without rose-coloured
glasses, but also without giving in to that apathetic despair, without
denying human beings their basic dignity.

>  I did think the screwing-over by the legal system
> was a bit too thorough, mind, but that's a minor point.

My missus would agree with you.

Part of that is, again, committing to the story-- those other boys
being who they are and the group dynamics leaning so heavily against
Fish in the first place, they weren't about to own up to their actions
and absolve him at their own peril-- and part of it is trying to
agitate the reader's sense of justice, to make them retroactive
advocates for Fish, who, following his acts of cowardice/self-
preservation, especially in the case of the woman who is gang-raped to
the point of dismemberment, has probably lost some readers' empathy.
(There is a reason, of course, why he ceases to be a viewpoint
character at that point.)  I want the reader to regain some of that
empathy in the third part, to reach a more nuanced view of Fish, to be
shouting at the screen/page, "No! Fish didn't do it!  Someone figure
this out and make it right!"

Until about an hour before posting, there was a scene in this third
part in which Fish, now the scapegoat for all the evil that was done,
talks with the one-handed Green Knight.  Fish protests his innocence
from his hospital bed, tries to make the Green Knight see that he
didn't do it, but the Green Knight can't see it.  The things Fish says
are, after all, just the kind of thing that Jack, the real leader,
would have said, just the kind of lies and excuses he'd use to save
himself.  Convinced of Fish's guilt and sociopathy, Martin doesn't
listen.  And when Fish asks Martin to share his secret, the secret he
promised on the elevator in the first part of the story, Martin
refuses: he always keeps his promises, but he won't keep them for
Fish, not after what happened to that woman, not after all the death
and destruction.

And that scene was, well, just way too much.  My missus convinced me
to jettison it, and I think she's right.  While it makes perfect sense
for Martin, the reader, who knows better, would be outraged with him,
would think his behaviour unreasonable, unconscionable.  (Which is one
of the traps of having an mostly omniscient narrator and less well-
informed protagonists.)

The third part of the story is the part that gave me the most trouble;
besides the last-minute cut of what was a pretty long and (I thought)
vital scene, I had a fair amount of trouble structuring it from a
tonal point of view.  That is, telling the story straight through--
and, stretching my "telling a complete story each issue" maxim to
perhaps its utmost with the decades-long jump explaining the fates of
Fish and the other boys-- the story felt alternatively lifeless and
unrelentingly downbeat, while lacking a certain sense of flow: the
various threads, political and personal, didn't seem to weave together
quite the way they should have.

I played around with the structure and events until I got to the
current version, which, you'll note, jumps around in time quite a
bit.  (I did this also in the previous issue, jumping ahead to show
the reaction over the next couple days to Derek's first-app before
jumping back to the first-app-in-progress.)  For example, Martin gets
his prosthetic just a few days after his injury-- Dr. Fay is no
slouch!-- but we don't see it until after we've followed the Dmowski
and Canton threads for a while, so those threads kinda flow together
without being interrupted.  And then that Martin scene goes right into
the next scene with Derek and the love scene with Pam, and then we
follow the personal thread to Dani, who brings it back to the
political thread, to Canton's talk with Proctor about the boys and
Proctor's lies/involvement, which gets us to the fate of the boys.
And then we end with Dani and Martin's love scene, which of course
happens just after she's been fired, and so before the Canton-Proctor
scene and the future-jump codas that precede it in the text.

I think this structure makes the various threads clearer and easier to
follow, and results in a more compelling emotional journey--
especially ending with the sex scene, which I personally think is
rather sweet, and adult, and loving, even amid, and perhaps because,
of their apprehensions and disappointments.  If I had ended with the
future codas, well, it wouldn't have been _too_ terrible I guess,
because I think my tone there is more disappointed/wistful than
cynical, but it would still have been too downbeat, still wouldn't
have been very satisfying.

I am, as you can see, still rather proud of this story-- and if I've
tooted my own horn too much, or have taken pride where it was
unfounded, I'm more than happy to invite interested parties in laying
the verbal smack down.

> Also, I'm kinda disappointed that there were no actual super-powered
> softball games in the issue.  Ah well. ``

I haven't kept count, mind you, but I think most of the splash-page
descriptions in JOLT CITY never actually happen in the story
itself. :-)

> Andrew "NO .SIG MAN" "Juan" Perron, good stuff.

Thank you again, sir.  It's very much appreciated.


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